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Get rid of the Ministry of Information!

By Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh        Ministry of Information - Liberia

 

Right after he and his colleagues forced their way into the Executive Mansion  in 1980, after a bloody coup d’ tat that suddenly changed the political landscape of Liberia, the late President  Samuel Kanyon Doe got the attention of the Liberian people when he quickly spelled out his many reasons for seizing state power.

Injustice, inequality and nepotism in the administration he dethroned seemed to be the chorus of the day. And he went on to offer many other reasons for his fatal adventure.

With the power of the state vested in him, Mr. Doe quickly eliminated the much-hated domestic spy network known to all as ‘PRO’ or Public Relations Officer, a dreaded vestige of the past used conveniently by his predecessors to strangle political dissent in order to remain in power indefinitely.

The system held Liberians back and intimidated countless others, who wanted to engage in politics at the time but couldn’t pursue their dreams because they didn’t know who was watching them.

Those Liberian leaders pitted friends against friends, brothers against brothers and neighbors against neighbors, who were supposed to lie on the other person in the name of protecting the president and his selfish political interest.

While Mr. Doe was able to eliminate the PRO system, he did not demolish its twin, the Ministry of Information, a “triangular institution, according to the Ministry’s official website, “that serve as the nerve center in propagating the policies of the Government of Liberia.”

The Ministry of Information was established by an Act of Legislature in 1965, and also by “executive law of 1972” as a propaganda machine, and one of the oldest bureaucracies in the country.

The Ministry of Information is not only an extension of the state’s propaganda and  security apparatus, its Public Affairs Division serves as the nerve center of the government’s  information and dissemination network, which former information minister, Laurence Bropleh suggests “accredited 600 foreign journalists; about 40 percent of these journalists epresenting various media organizations in the United States of America, Europe.”

As I perused the January 1, 2006 – December 31, 2006 Annual Report and Executive  Summary of the Ministry of Information, I further realized that the New Liberia newspaper established in 1978, is also an arm of the ministry’s propaganda wing, which “published 29 regular and three special editions during the period under review.”

Interestingly, the New Liberia newspaper was established during the administration of the late President William R. Tolbert Jr., who was then feeling the heat of rising political resistance, desperately needed another mouthpiece as if he did not have such avenue in the first place to tell his story.

However, the editorial policy of the New Liberia, according to former information minister, Laurence Bropleh, “remains the same  to promote, interpret, analyze and explain government policies, programmes and activities for public understanding and acceptance, and to publish the views, comments and suggestions of the public for government’s attention and action, and countering misinformation, distortions and negative propaganda about the government and its functionaries.”

Do we really need a Ministry of Information to disseminate propaganda also for an Ellen Johnson Sirleaf government that prides itself as transparent and  accountable to the Liberian people? If that is the case, then what’s the role of the state-owned Radio Station, Liberian Broadcasting System?

If the role of the Ministry of Information is to accredit foreign journalists as Mr. Bropleh mentioned, then what is the role of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL)? What’s the role for the Office of the Press Secretary to the President, and the communications’ wing of the Executive Mansion?

And how does the Ministry of Information help the  Liberian people go from point A to point B in their daily activities? If Liberia is a democratic republic, then why fund and keep a ministry whose primary mission is to undermine the aspirations of the people through false propaganda, as is the case with noted totalitarian governments such as North Korea, the People’s Republic of China, and other repressive governments?

Historically, the Ministry of Information and its sister organs shamelessly and unprofessionally promoted the undemocratic governments of  Tubman, Tolbert, Doe and Taylor, even as the human rights of the Liberian people were being violated on a daily basis by those leaders.

The Liberian people, however, did not expect the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration to remind them of the past while using the same old methods, tactics and  propaganda of the Ministry of Information to twist the facts and lie to them daily on issues such as nepotism, corruption, etc.

In an era of optimism, nation-building and confidence-building, the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration failed the Liberian people when she retained the symbols of oppression to manipulate public opinion and influence public debate to make her administration look good.

The ongoing controversy regarding the hiring of presidential sons, Robert, Charles and Fumba Sirleaf to sensitive and influencial positions by their mother, and in her administration, which of course is nepotism, did not go well with most Liberians.

Sirleaf’s faulty, insensitive, arrogant and politically expedient explanation for the hiring of her sons is a reason why the need for a neutral, independent and a free press in the Liberian nation cannot be overlooked.

Not too long ago, I wrote on this page that the Liberian Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) should be privatized or abolished because it has become a money-wasting enterprise that only benefits the politically connected, and those who come into public service to steal and get rich quick.

The best operating practice in any private or public setting – in this case the Liberian government is not to continue to fuel, tolerate or subsidize corruption by allowing public corporations to bleed financially because of mismanagement and inefficiency.

When these public institutions cannot produce results or failed to live up to the reasons for their creation, it is wise to shut them down completely, and put the money to other visually practical public policy endeavors such as education, sanitation and healthcare, to make a massive difference in the lives of the Liberian people.

As a political/opinion writer, I am sure some will hastingly question my motives for this piece and other articles, or will wonder before digesting my argument why I am suggesting that the Ministry of Information be abolished?

However, as I have written in this piece and in other articles, it is not about me; but about a country we all claim to love, and we want to see prosper and liveable.

Getting there requires bold and visionary leadership, and making tough decisions. Abolishing the Ministry of Information is one of those tough decisions.

The monster must go!

Category: Editorial

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